Already the practice weekend has taken place at Le Mans and this year’s race looks as though it might be worth watching for a short while. The CSI in their wisdom brought about the limit of 3-litres on the engines of prototypes that used to be in Group 6 and lumped together so-called production racing-sports cars that had to be made in a series of 25 and the one-off prototypes, all now with a 3-litre limit, under the heading Group 5. This has virtually eliminated the small-production sports-racing car and concentrated attention on factory cars in teams of one or how ever many more the factory can afford. More attention has now been directed on the Gran Turismo category and the Le Mans entry list for the race on June 10th/11th has quite an interesting look about it. One of the reasons behind the 3-litre limit on sports and prototype cars was to encourage manufacturers to participate in Grand Prix and sports-car events, using the same basic engine. As so often happens Ferrari was quick off the mark and his flat-12 cylinder 312P (he insists it is not a 312BP as some journalists call it) is a nominal two seater version of his Grand Prix car, while Lola have joined in with the T.280 which is designed round the standard British package of Cosworth V8 and Hewland gearbox. All this is fine providing these sports cars do not follow the flimsy and unreliable construction of the Grand Prix cars from which they stem. The way some Grand Prix teams seem to have difficulty in keeping a Cosworth V8 on song for 2 hours does not encourage me to believe that one will run for 24 hours, even on half cock, and the way suspension bolts, wishbones, radius-rod mountings, drive-shafts, monocoques, body mountings, roll bar and so on, fall apart on Grand Prix cars, fills me with depression when I hear that some of the GP constructions might get involved in long-distance sportscar racing.
Old man Ferrari has been unwell recently and it may have been during that period that he said he was not going to enter any of his sports cars in races that lasted longer than 6 hours, to which his opponents said “as if a 312P would last 6 hours anyway!”. However, he has entered three works cars for Le Mans presumably for Ickx, Regazzoni, Andretti, Redman, Schenken and Peterson, if they are all still fit and well in June and still working for the Commendatore. A fourth car has been entered by NART, the North American Racing Team of Luigi Chinetti for his own drivers. Ferrari’s immediate rival is undoubtedly Autodelta S.p.A. with their V8 Alfa Romeos and they have entered four cars, all optimistically down as the TT (Telaio Tubulare) models, with the centrally placed gearbox. Matra have also entered four cars, all with their V12 engines, and these twelve cars alone should make the opening stages of the 24-hour race interesting. In addition, there are three Lola-Cosworth V8. cars entered, two Ligier cars, with similar power-packs, and two Gulf-Mirages, the new Cosworth V8-powered cars of John Wyer. Undoubtedly all these works 3-litres will set the pace, but how many will last for 24 hours is another matter.
If last year was a sign of the times then a GT car could easily win Le Mans, for in 1971 a Ferrari 365 GTB/4 finished 5th overall, running in full production road trim. (It was not a 365 GTC, as we published in our Results in the January Motor Sport). This year there are six GTB Ferraris entered and it is quite like old times with the various Ferrari Concessionaires entering the cars, with factory support. Scuderia Filipinetti have entered two, Jacques Swaters’ Ecurie Francorchamps has one, the English Maranello Concessionaires have entered one, Chinetti, the New York dealer has one, and the French dealer Charles Pozzi has one. One can almost see the old days of Le Mans returning when after the race the actual Le Mans winner is offered for sale as a usable road car. In this GT category are four De Tomato Panteras, with 5.7-litre Ford V8 engines. The first mid-engined coupe from De Tomaso was the Mangusta, and it was a bit of a camel, but the Pantera which followed is said to have all the faults of the Mangusta eliminated, but I have yet to drive one. Putting them into a motor race should prove something. I only wish Lamborghini would put a Miura or two into a race. Two of the Panteras are entered by the De Tomato factory and the other two are customer cars, with assistance from the Modena factory. There are six Porsche 911S models entered by private owners, all with 2 1/2-litre flat-six engines, and one of these could finish in the first six. To make up the full complement there are a number of Group-2 saloon cars entered, including two Citroën SM coupes, three Ford Capris with 3-litre V6 engines from Cologne, and a private 300SEL Mercedes-Benz with 6.8-litre V8 engine.
Altogether Le Mans looks as if it is making a big effort to retain its basic idea, to encourage good road ears, and collectors in the distant future, might well acquire, and use on the road, an actual 1972 Le Mans car, in the same way that D-type Jaguars are used now, or those 1935 Lagondas mentioned last month.
The Italians use the rather fascinating word “Spider” when they talk about an open two-seater road car, and the 1938 Alfa Romeo 2.9 litre supercharged straight-eight was very much a “Spider”. A little while ago I was chatting with an Italian who was a Jaguar enthusiast and he kept talking about the “Tipo E Spider”, Which threw me for a while until I realised he was talking about the “E-type Roadster” or open two-seater. I can’t say I have ever looked upon my E-type as a “Spider”, but I suppose it is technically. Pininfarina have just introduced a Dino Spider 246/GTS, which is an open version of the beautiful little mid-engine Dino coupé. Somehow I feel the name “Spider” is inappropriate, for it is really a Dino coupé that someone has got at with a tin opener and removed the roof. The windscreen and the back part of the body are unchanged so that this open version is only open above the cockpit, like a Targa Porsche 911. I feel a new name should be coined for this very practical open arrangement, which is not a detachable hard-top, nor is it a pure open sports car, for you cannot have a canvas hood on it like an Elan or MG-B. This new 246/GTS Dino is to be made in a small exclusive series, the 246/GT Dino coupé being the normal production model. It is a pity that the pure open sports car is disappearing, apart from the Lotus Seven, for a Dino 246 with a body like a D-type Jaguar would be rather exciting. -D. S. J.